Study: What would help retention of early career nurses in regional and rural areas?

Regional Nurse Study

What would help improve the job satisfaction and retention of early career nurses working across regional and rural Australia?


It’s a question often contemplated by Heidi Rose, a clinical nurse based at Mount Gambier, and University of South Australia academics Dr Gemma Skaczkowski and Associate Professor Kate Gunn. So, they asked them.

The study aimed to increase understanding about the needs and preferences of the people that matter most, early career nurses working in the regions.

The 13 early career registered nurses who took part worked in regional, remote or very remote hospitals across South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. All graduated from a Bachelor of Nursing Program between 2018 and 2020.

“The aspects of regional work they enjoyed included better opportunities for broader work scope and job progression,” Ms Rose revealed.

“They also liked the more personal connection with patients that often comes from working in smaller communities, the community connection.”

According to researchers, ageing populations, growing regional communities and an exhausted workforce are leading factors contributing to a “chronic nurse shortage” in regional and rural Australia. With regional hospitals experiencing high workloads and funding pressures, they say additional staff supports for early career nurses could prove crucial in retaining graduate nurses. The study found that nurses transitioning from study to a busy regional healthcare setting experienced heightened pressures.

Positively, however, strategies put forth by nurses themselves would require minimal cost or time, and could be implemented locally, researchers say.

Heidi Rose

“Early career nurses in rural areas often have additional stresses, including those inherent in moving house and leaving family and friends behind to establish a new social network. There is also a smaller workforce to share the load, which can translate to less time spent on orientation and training, and longer work hours,” Ms Rose explained.

“Study participants suggested additional workplace supports would make the transition easier, including assistance finding accommodation and transport, and facilitating more social gatherings.

“On the job, they said more time on orientation activities, more contact with clinical facilitators and mentors, and more opportunities for clinical education were important. Greater flexibility in work hours and rostering was also a factor, together with having more say in clinical specialty rotations.”

Co-author Dr Gemma Skaczkowski, a behavioural researcher in the Department of Rural Health at the University of South Australia, suggested many hospitals were overwhelmed and that their capacity to implement new staff support programs and interventions was likely to be limited. But it was crucial for workplace retention.

“Improving the experiences of early career nurses is vital to keep them in rural areas, and prevent further workforce shortages,” Dr Skaczkowski says.

“Pleasingly, many of the strategies suggested by nurses in our study could be actioned at a local level, with little time or financial investment. Further research to examine which of these strategies may be most feasible and impactful in practice would be useful.”

Read the full study here

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